Western Canada workers have higher risk of injury: study

Further study needs to be done to understand the reason why workers from western Canada have a higher risk of work-related injury than their counterparts in the east, according to one scientist from the Institute of Work and Health (IWH).
A recent IWH study revealed workers in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia have a 30 to 50 per cent higher risk of work injury than Ontario workers. The result is true even after controlling for other work-related risk factors such as demographics and work characteristics, said Curtis Breslin, the IWH scientist who led the study.

Breslin said the research did not delve into the possible reasons for the geographical injury rate differences, but that this should be a subject for further study.

“The basic next step would be to do research to figure out the reasons. Speculating on the reasons and suggesting policy based on speculation we don’t think is a good idea,” said Breslin.

IWH looked at data from the 2003 and 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), which looked at 89,541 Canadians (ages 15 to 75 years) who had worked in the past year. Through the CCHS, respondents were asked if they had been injured at work (excluding repetitive strain injuries) in the last 12 months seriously enough to limit their normal activities.

IWH researchers looked at work injuries by personal and work-related factors, as well as area-level factors (such as labour market, workplace characteristics and socio-economic status by area), and then looked to see how these factors were associated with work injury risk in the provinces in which respondents worked.

The IWH study found provincial differences in work risk, even after taking individual and area-level factors into account, including industry mix, according to a statement from the IWH.

Specifically, Saskatchewan showed 27 per cent higher risk compared with Ontario; Alberta, 28 per cent; and British Columbia, 49 per cent. Workers in Manitoba and Quebec were at comparable risk of work injury; and those in Atlantic Canada at slightly lower risk (by eight per cent), the IWH said.

The IWH study has been submitted to the journal, Annals of Epidemiology.

“Given that, in Canada, primary responsibility for occupational health and safety falls on the provinces, the finding that important determinants of work injury are potentially operating at a provincial level may be useful to provincial governments in planning prevention strategies,” says IWH research operations coordinator Sara Morassaei, lead author of the submitted journal article.

Although the study did not pinpoint those determinants, Breslin offers some possible factors.

“I could speculate on some things that would be worthy of future research or to explore further,” said Breslin. “One of them is things related to the different types of legislation that are in those provinces — how the legislation is enforced — those are possible reasons why you see provincial differences.”

Other probable explanations could be unrelated to legislation but more around workplace characteristics, such as firm size, Breslin added.

“We know from the labour force survey that, on average, firms in the western provinces tend to be smaller than firms in Ontario. And we know that small businesses tend to have higher work injuries. That’s another potential factor to look at,” he said.